Not every night owl is created equal.
And we understand that. Some want to nurse a $12 cocktail over stimulating conversation, while others prefer to dance under neon lights to whatever the DJ is spinning. Some like watching the big game on a Monday night, while others might want to catch a gallery opening. Some are wine snobs, others are music snobs. And, deep down, we always have room for the local neighborhood bars that line the city’s corners. So, here’s the rundown on where Baltimoreans hang out after hours, no matter their late-night preference.
Why should out-of-towners have all the fun? Hotel bars offer some of the most glamorous scenes in the city.
Spotlight on B&O American Brasserie
It’s Friday night at the Hotel Monaco bar, and from some subtle signs (“excuse me, Hon”), it’s clear that locals have taken over the B&O American Brasserie. People are three deep in line at the bar as if they’re on a platform waiting for a rush-hour train. With the few stools occupied, we head to the lounge to escape the crowd. The only thing more comforting than the cushioned seats is that first sip of a Queen Bee—Belvedere vodka, yuzu, St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, and honey water. Along with inspiring originals, B&O puts its own twist on classic cocktails like the Manhattan, sidecar, and even bourbon and coke—its version is made with Bulleit bourbon and house cola. (It’s the real real thing.) Everything that goes into a drink here is concocted or squeezed on the premises. In just a year-and-a-half since the hotel and its gastric engine opened in the old B&O Railways headquarters building, the bar has positioned itself as a destination for serious cocktail connoisseurs who don’t mind journeying long distances (some come all the way from Canton!) for an expertly mixed libation. Food is a huge draw, too. Our meatball, mozzarella, and torn basil flatbread arrives, and, within moments, the pizza is gone. The couple to our left is snacking on citrus poached shrimp cocktail, plunging the gargantuan prawns into chili-spiked cocktail sauce, and then into their mouths. They look blissful. The large flat-screen hanging on the wall above shows Silver Streak, a 1976 Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder vehicle about a train trip gone awry—evenings always feature muted, train-centric films.
As trouble closes in around the comic heroes, the clock approaches midnight and we debate leaving. But an Axel Grease Beer—a beer, chocolate, and vodka conconction, see recipe on facing page—sounds like the perfect nightcap. Our waitress returns, and we decide to stay onboard. 2 N. Charles Street, 443-692-6172, bandorestaurant.com.
Bring the night home! Make an axel grease beer
1 oz. 42 Below Manuka honey vodka
½ oz. Chambord
¾ oz. Young's D.C. stout syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Shake all ingredients without the Guinness. Strain into a pilsner glass and top with Guinness.
- Explorers Lounge
The Inter-Continental Harbor Court is the city’s swankiest hotel, and its bar has the drink menu to prove it. One pearl of a deal is available every day: six oysters and a glass of Champagne for $13, a dollar of which the lounge donates to the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Recovery Partnership. 550 Light Street, 410-234-0550, haborcourt.com.
- Diamond Tavern
Before games, Birds backers mingle with visiting fans outside in the beer garden, washing down brats with $3 drafts. Inside, the expansive dining room and stylish bar offer up distinctly less-ballparky fare (haven’t seen tomato and goat cheese ravioli at Camden Yards yet). 401 W. Pratt Street, 443-573-8700, hilton.com.
- Tavern 101
You can recycle a lot of beer in Fairfield Inn, the city’s most eco-friendly hotel: $2.50 Yuenglings are offered by sociable bartenders, who leave out-of-towners green with envy that they have to go home. 101 President Street, 410-837-5000, greenfairfieldinn.com.
- Kozmo’s Lounge
The Marriott Waterfront’s bar has no particular mojo—yet it’s an exceedingly pleasant place to drink. Large jazz caricatures adorn the walls, and bowls of zesty snack mix top the tables. If you’re walking from one side of the harbor to the other, Kozmo’s is an ideal pit stop. 700 Aliceanna Street, 410-895-6036, marriottmodules.com.
Bottle service, plush couches, and dim lights are the norm at these upscale lounges.
Spotlight on Milan
A new lounge has appeared in Little Italy where the restaurant Luigi Petti once stood. Inside, the atmosphere is totally hip with a decidedly European attitude—even the prices on the menus include euros. The club’s name pays homage to Milan’s status in fashion design, and its martinis honor Armani, Versace, and Prada. The light level is kept properly dim in true lounge fashion and techno music thumps constantly. Classic cocktails, such as sidecars and stingers, fly across the L-shaped, 20-seat bar. Patrons can move among three levels and congregate in groups on low stools around a fireplace or out of the way, on sleek, white leather sofas. Climb the red-carpeted stairs to the top floor and discover private rooms and cloistered dining tables beneath crystal chandeliers. The outdoor patio is open year-round for alfresco dining. It is there, a local graphic designer sits sipping drinks with a crowd of friends gathered to celebrate a birthday. Her first visit to Milan was opening night. “I like the Miami vibe,” she says and sets her glass down among a dozen champagne flutes. A waitress arrives with the party’s bottle service—a gigantic vat of Belvedere vodka, surrounded by carafes of cranberry, pineapple, and orange juices. Meanwhile, a white stretch limousine pulls up to the corner of Eastern Avenue and South Exeter Street. Instinctively, passersby try to peek in to see who could be arriving. 1000 Eastern Avenue, 410-685-6111, onemilan.com.
- Eden’s Lounge
Follow the searchlights. The line to enter forms behind the velvet rope, and the dance floor is visible from the street. When you get in, you’ll discover a colorful, lush, underground club. 15 W. Eager Street, 410-244-0405, edenslounge.com.
- Red Maple
There’s still no sign in front of the Red Maple, just a backlit graphic that looks like a tree. Inside, the place is noisy and fun. Come in the early evening for a low-key cocktail on the light-up bar. The DJ rocks later in the night. 930 N. Charles Street, 410-547-0149, 930redmaple.com.
Chef/owner Tony Foreman, interior designer Patrick Sutton, and builder Tom Gaines joined forces to transform a rusting 19th-century machine shop into a striking dining space. Sipping a Manhattan in one of its luxurious booths defines elegance. 1425 Aliceanna Street, 410-534-7296, pazorestaurant.com.
- The 13th Floor
The real stars shine forever. This lounge on the top floor of The Belvedere predates all the others and boasts the best views in town. There’s no better place to drink that all-important first cocktail of the weekend. 1 E. Chase Street, 410-347-0888, the13th-floor.com.
These are the comforting corner places down the block that feel more like home than a bar.
Spotlight on Dougherty’s Pub
Everyone said Bill Dougherty was crazy. He was the last owner of The Irish Pub, a Baltimore landmark that had been around for as long as anyone could remember, and he was changing its name. Not only that, he was moving it down the block to an old warehouse he had been renovating. That was 16 years ago, and he’s never looked back. Inside, the place is a perfectly worn-in beer hall. The copper-topped bar, hand-built by Bill’s brother, Lenny, practically runs the length of the room. Fifteen taps——ranging from Budweiser to Magic Hat #9 to, of course, the obligatory Guinness——keep everyone well oiled. On any given afternoon, the place is filled with a mix of civil servants from the nearby State Center office complex, art students from MICA, future barristers studying at the University of Baltimore, off-duty firefighters, and walking-distance neighbors from Bolton Hill and Mt. Vernon. It’s the sort of place where a group of people can meet for drinks and pub grub, and if more people show up, no one looks at you sideways for rearranging the tables and chairs. The clack of billiard balls can be heard coming from the backroom, the music runs the gamut, and the local artwork on the walls changes monthly. Either Jason or Sam will be behind the bar when you stop in and, after a visit or two, will remember you and what you drink. One couple has lived a block away from the pub for 13 years. On a recent Sunday, they sat at the bar in their Ravens jerseys watching a heart-stopping football game. Between bites of food and sips of drinks, one patron summed up the neighborhood bar state-of-mind perfectly: “This is more like going over to someone’s house.” And no one is saying Bill Dougherty is crazy anymore. 223 W. Chase Street, 410-752-4059, doughertyspub.com.
- Hull Street Blues Café
This Locust Point staple in the shadow of Fort McHenry is fast approaching the quarter-century mark, but it hasn’t changed a bit. There’s still excellent food, cheap drinks, and some of the best customer service in town. 1222 Hull Street, 410-727-7476, hullstreetblues.com.
- The Mt. Washington Tavern
Locals have been rolling down Mt. Washington to “The Tavern” for more than 30 years. It’s the rolling home part that proves difficult. Indoor and outdoor bars make the possibilities endless. 5700 Newbury Street, 410-367-6903, mtwashingtontavern.com.
- The Laughing Pint
The name says it all. The Laughing Pint is, hands down, one of the friendliest bars you’ll ever find. Inside, there’s ping-pong and board games. And, if you sit outside, the bartender will bring you your drinks. See what we mean? 3531 Gough Street, 410-342-6544, laughingpint.com.
- Koco’s Pub
A family-owned establishment and a cornerstone of the community, Koco’s has been keeping the residents of Lauraville sated for 25 years. They have arguably the best crab cake in town. And if you want an argument, the best crab cake is a good place to start. 4301 Harford Road, 410-426-3519, kocospub.com.
The crowd leans a little older, the drinks pricier, and the atmosphere classier.
Spotlight on Woodberry Kitchen
Being at this farm-to-table restaurant always reminds us of being in somebody’s barn—with the grand steel beams that frame the place to the piles of lumber that accent its walls. But then you notice the open kitchen and the daily rotating menu, and you remember that this “barn” has some of the best food we’ve ever had and a creative, thoughtful ethos that echoes throughout the place. On a Wednesday night, the bar at Woodberry is just as much of a destination as the always-booked restaurant. But once seated, the world is at your fingertips. The plaid-shirted bartenders are helpful, as they guide you through the bar’s daily specials. We recommend starting off with a Gov’t Mule—Prairie organic vodka, house-made ginger beer, and lime-ginger syrup—which is served in a copper mug that preserves that down-on-the-farm feeling. The bartender then garnishes another drink with a lemon and precisely picked rosemary from a spice jar. Soon we hear bangs, sizzles, and pops from Spike Gjerde’s kitchen and realize we’re hungry. What does plaid recommend? The fried oysters on the specials menu, which are melt-in-your-mouth delicious and come with a side of coleslaw that would put our grandmother’s to shame. Plenty of well-to-do patrons sidle up to the bar and snack on $1 popcorn, cheese plates, and snacks. One girl is just here to enjoy her book, it seems, while two other women discuss the local theater scene. Across the L-shaped bar is a couple on an obvious first date, sitting next to a group of friends who are here to enjoy some local brews. Guests of a private party start to saunter in and fill up an adjacent dining room. People feel lucky to be here, because every ingredient, whether it’s an oyster or a lemon, is carefully chosen and perfectly placed. 2010 Clipper Park Road, 410-464-8000, woodberrykitchen.com.
Bring the night home!
Make woodberry kitchens's mint julep
2 ¾ oz. of Johnny Drum Private Stock rum
a dash of simple syrup
Note: It is best you stir the drink continuously and use fresh mint.
- Tapas Adela
Tapas Adela is gorgeous, with its leather stools, fuchsia-and-gold trim, and orchids lining the bar. But the real beauty is in the drink menu. Try the flawless Blue Sun or an adventurous Martini en Fuego. 814 S. Broadway, 410-534-6262, tapasadela.com.
- Bluegrass Tavern
This new Federal Hill spot is the best of both worlds: It's a neighborhood bar with an upscale feel. Plus, the menu has more than 25 bourbon varieties. 1500 S. Hanover Street, 410-244-5101, bluegrasstavern.com.
- The Capital Grille
With mahogany accents and leather booths, The Capital Grille is the ideal place for a special dinner, business lunch, or drinks with VIPs. 500 E. Pratt Street, 443-703-4064, thecapitalgrille.com.
- Sullivan’s Steakhouse
We’d all like to step into a Mad Men episode, and you come pretty close at Sullivan’s Steakhouse. Sit in the Art Deco bar, listen to live jazz, and sip on martinis like The Knockout (aptly named for its affects). 1 E. Pratt Street, 410-962-5503, sullivansteakhouse.com.
Where patrons have ironic mustaches, drink PBR, and discuss vinyl.
Spotlight on Rocket to Venus
It's crowded in Rocket to Venus on a Saturday night, but that's to be expected. Since opening in 2006, the retro bar has been a popular stop for any self-respecting hipster. But tonight, it is still early and the establishment's chrome-rimmed tables and vinyl booths are occupied by a surprising number of adults—people who can vividly remember the Reagan years. But these are grownups who have decided not to get old. The guy with the salt-and-pepper beard? We bet he has a blog. The slim, bottle-blonde lady in the bathroom? She's actually out for a girls' night. There's even what looks to be a traditional nuclear family dinner happening in one corner booth. Have the masses gotten cooler or has Rocket to Venus gone soft? Probably neither. A more logical explanation is that its clientele reflects the changing demographics of Hampden—its ragtag youngsters, maturing Gen-Xers, and holdouts from pregentrification. But the ratio is still weighted heavily toward the twentysomethings, who seem to multiply as the night goes on, sipping Natty Boh cans and discussing their iTunes libraries. A trio of such scruffy audiophiles sits at the parabola-shaped bar. "I had the first Seven Mary Three album," scruff number one says. "Well, CD," he qualifies. "I still like Pearl Jam," another scruff offers supportively. See? Some things do have multigenerational appeal. 3360 Chestnut Avenue, 410-235-7887, rockettovenus.com.
- The Club Charles
Club Chuck is the granddaddy of Baltimore hipster bars, providing a glamorous Art Deco backdrop for the artists and misfits of Station North. 1724 N. Charles Street, 410-727-8815, theclubcharles.com.
- Golden West Café
Serving up spicy Southwest grub with vegan and vegetarian options, the Golden West is best known for its frequent music shows. 1105 W. 36th Street, 410-889-8891, goldenwestcafe.com.
- Mt. Royal Tavern
A MICA student's second home, Mt. Royal Tavern keeps the drinks flowing as long as you don't pay with one of those newfangled credit cards. 1204 W. Mount Royal Avenue, 410-669-6686.
- Johnny Rad's
New this year, pizzeria/tavern Johnny Rad's ticks all the boxes on the cool hangout list: Vegetarian and vegan-friendly? Check. Eclectic beer selection? Check. Skate-punk aesthetic? Double check. 2108 Eastern Avenue, 443-759-6464, johnnyrads.com.
Places where your home team, the wing sauce, and the big game are all that matters.
Spotlight on Looney’s Pub
First quarter, first bar: The front room of Looney’s in Canton, which is broken into four distinct bars, is already packed. Purple is the dominant color here, but there’s plenty of Steelers black, Cleveland brown, and Giants blue worn proudly as well. Nine TVs are tuned to various games, and elation and despair can be heard almost constantly. But the loudest roar is for the Ravens, who are today playing the insufferable Patriots in Foxborough. Second quarter, second bar: In the back of the lower level, 10 TVs are filled with NFL action from around the country. It’s quieter here, mostly because clapping is tough when your hands are holding chicken wings. When Joe Flacco hits Todd Heap for a touchdown, smiles wash over hot sauce-stained faces. Third quarter, third bar: A trip up the stairs leads to a room with a pool table and 11 TVs. The atmosphere here is less restaurant, more frat house. Weekend nights, this space feels like a dance club, but this Sunday the soundtrack is football. Those in the purple and black explode when Anquan Boldin scores a touchdown. Fourth quarter, fourth bar: Overlooking O’Donnell Square, the upstairs front bar has 14 TVs. With the College GameDay and NFL Sunday Ticket packages, there is almost no game Looney’s doesn’t show. As the Ravens and Pats slug it out in overtime, the crowd is intense. When New England nails the game-winning field goal, the depressed faithful head for the exit. They’re promptly replaced by a new shift of fans sporting Cowboys blue, Vikings purple, and Jets green. At Looney’s, the cold beers are as plentiful as the TVs, and the game never really ends. 2900 O’Donnell Street, 410-675-9235, looneyspubmd.com.
Bring the night home! Get Old Bay wings to go
Looney's offers carry-out, and their kitchen stays open until 1 a.m. We recommend the tangy Old Bay wings.
- Kisling’s Tavern
The wings at Kisling’s are not the hottest, nor the cheapest. They’re simply the best. They’re served in a no-frills corner bar, and, as long as there’s an order of perfectly peppered wings on your plate, the game is almost inconsequential. Almost. 2100 Fleet Street, 410-327-5477, baltimoresbestwings.com.
- City Limits Sports Bar
Light is minimal, the bartenders wear smiles, and the beer is cold. The décor—a framed Kellen Winslow jersey, a Maple Leafs pennant, a deer head—is completely random. It’s like watching a game in your buddy’s basement. 1700 E. Fort Avenue, 410-244-8084, citylimitssportsbar.com.
- Pickles Pub
Most of the O's fans here weren’t alive when the Orioles won the World Series. But, they couldn’t care less. You may miss the first pitch, but Pickles is as much a tradition as yelling “O!” during the national anthem. 520 Washington Boulevard, 410-752-1784, picklespub.com.
- Padonia Station
If you can’t make it to the game, Padonia Station is a good sub. The twin TVs are huge and the volume makes you feel like you’re in the stands. And, Mondays bring a free “tailgate” buffet. 63 E. Padonia Road, 410-252-8181, padoniastation.com.
Clubs where flashing lights, pulsing beats, and nonstop partying are standard.
Spotlight on The Get Down
Occupying what was once rock club Fletcher's, The Get Down is a full-fledged dance club, something this area has lacked since, perhaps, the closing of Club 723. Gone is the downstairs pool table area, which is now a dance floor girded by swanky lounge seating. The main bar is still there, but the décor is now ultra-modern, with LED lights that cycle through various color schemes. The rear lounge remains, but has gotten a similarly futuristic renovation. And what was once the upstairs live music stage is now quite literally nothing—the floor has been removed to open up a cavernous two-story open space, dominated on the main wall by an enormous array of multicolored lights that produce a mesmerizing show. On the second floor, revelers can take a break from getting down by looking out onto the main floor below. As one might expect, things don't get going until later in the night, but The Get Down valiantly combats this with arguably the best overall happy-hour deal in Fells Point—half-price drinks from 7-10 p.m., primetime for most tipplers. During this time, there is also no cover charge, but even after it gets busy, the cover can usually be circumvented by joining their e-mail list or finding them on Facebook. The music here varies, depending on the nightly theme and DJs (who include visiting national names as well as local spinners), ranging from straight house to funk, hip-hop, and break beats. Though it can get massively packed, the crowd here is generally well-behaved and, on slower nights, the place can be downright relaxing, adding to the overall upscale feel. 701 S. Bond Street, 443-708-3564, getdownbaltimore.com.
Bring the night home!
Mix music like a professional DJ
The Get Down's resident DJ Harry Hotter advises using Pandora and iTunes's Genius tool. He also recommends starting the dance party with familiar songs and getting gradually more out there.
A cavernous warehouse space that is divided into three rooms——a huge main stage that attracts national acts, a smaller lounge (aka The Talking Head) that hosts indie bands and local talent, and a large club area, where the DJ is lord. 407 E. Saratoga Street, 410-783-7888, sonarbaltimore.com.
Mist is a big-box-type dance club with a pretty swank interior, some lounging areas, and bottle service that has attracted celebrities like the Black Eyed Peas and Michael Phelps. Expect a cover charge, but drink prices are as decent as the pours. 124 Market Place, 443-618-2332, mistbaltimore.com.
- The Hippo
A veritable pillar of both the Baltimore dance and gay scenes, The Hippo has pool tables, a bar upfront, and a huge dance floor and stage in back. Expect reasonable drink prices and wacky theme nights. "Where everyone is welcome" is its motto, and it is to be believed. 1 W. Eager Street, 410-547-0069, clubhippo.com.
Though perhaps a strange concept, on weekends, the pool area of Canton's Merritt Athletic Club becomes a posh nightclub, adorned with white drapery and comfy chairs. Drinks are pricey, and beautiful people abound. 3401 Boston Street, 443-618-2332, aquaniteclub.com.
Live Music Gems
Watch jazz, blues, rock, or anything your heart desires inside these live music venues.
Spotlight on The 8x10 Club
It's a marriage of aptly named institutions: Charles "Big Daddy" Stallings is playing The 8x10 tonight. The not-small Stallings fills the undersized but hugely loved Federal Hill club with searing guitar notes and sharp lyrics. Live music came to the 8x10 in 1983. Like every Behind the Music subject, the club's life has unfolded along a rocky road, with periods of glory where Dave Matthews Band, Nirvana, and Phish took the stage, and moments of despair when the place was silent. Since ditching the moniker The Funk Box and returning to its roots in 2005, 8x10 has reestablished itself as one of the city's premier music venues. Arrive early to snag one of the best seats in the house—the stools that line the balcony of the second level. Peer down on the stage to see people boogying to whichever rock, blues, or bluegrass band is jamming that night. Space near the bars fills up quickly, but the staff labors efficiently to keep the drinks flowing. Tonight, it's the playing of Stallings and his talented saxophonist, trumpeter, and harmonica player that continue the musical legacy. Intimate in a way other venues only dream of, performers often stroll off the 8x10's stage to play in the belly of the audience. It's not a long (or strange) trip. 10 E. Cross Street, 410-625-2000, the8x10.com.
Listen closely and you can probably hear the unrelenting punk, metal, or other band now kicking ass at the Ottobar, which has been rocking for 13 years and 12,000 shows. 2549 N. Howard St., 410-662-0069, theottobar.com.
- Cat's Eye Pub
So genuine a venue is Cat's Eye that it would fit perfectly on Fifth Street in Austin, Frenchmen Street in New Orleans, or just about anywhere in Memphis. 1730 Thames Street, 410-276-9866, catseyepub.com.
- Wine Cellar Jazz and Supper Club
The sweet sound of a tenor sax emerges onto Water Street. Inside is a lounge where musicians play jazz the way God (or Miles and Coltrane) intended. 110 Water Street, 410-986-4445.
- Rams Head Live!
Anyone who's ever packed into a one-room club or tried to see performers at an arena knows Rams Head is the ideally sized music venue. There's not a bad spot in the place. 20 Market Place, 410-244-1131, ramsheadlive.com.
You don't have to be a wine snob to appreciate sipping reds and whites at these bars.
Spotlight on Pure Wine Café
At the top of the hill in historic Ellicott City, in an old general store, a massive amount of wine is now being consumed. Pure Wine Café is quickly becoming Ellicott City's go-to spot for wine, food, and conversation. The cozy bar and six tables scattered around the space are very inviting. Manager Katie Wallace will walk a novice drinker through the menu of wines and suggest food pairings if requested. To make the selection process even more pleasant, the wine list is broken down into taste categories, like bubbled, full-bodied, and rich. A glass of red and a plate of citrus-infused olives start the evening splendidly. Proprietor P.J. Strain freely admits, "I can tell you more about wine than you could possibly need to know."
The food pairings prove to be irresistible, and a selection of five smoked Italian meats and cheeses, all for $15, is a steal. Across the bar, a married couple shares a bottle of Merlot. They enthuse, "We love it here!" and, almost on cue, clink their glasses together. Wine just has that affect on people. 8210 Main Street, 410-480-5037, purewinecafe.com.
- 13.5% Wine Bar
A wine bar in Hampden? What used to be a punch line is now a reality, and, judging by the crowds, the joke is on the naysayer. Owner Wayne Laing's massive wine list and clever food menu are a welcome addition to the formerly blue-collar 'hood. 1117 W. 36th Street, 410-889-1064, 135winebar.com.
- The Wine Market
The 900-bottle wine shop and inflation-defying happy-hour prices make this Locust Point cafe hard to pass up. Their excellent food menu keeps you coming back. 921 E. Fort Avenue, 410-244-6166, the-wine-market.com.
Located on a quiet street in Fells Point (if there is such a thing), this diminutive spot is the only one on our list to possess a water view. Grab a table by the dock, raise a glass, and watch life literally sail by. 905 S. Ann Street, 410-342-8466, v-nowinebar.com.
- Vino Rosina
This industrial-style offshoot of the Canton/Downtown sandwich shop has now gained a chic, urban identity all its own. With an extensive wine list and talented chef, we can't help but wonder why Rosina didn't do this years ago. 507 S. Exeter Street, 410-528-8600, vinorosina.com.
It's all about the art, but the drinking, live music, and people watching is fun, too.
Spotlight on The Windup Space
It doesn't take long to pick up on the artsy vibe in The Windup Space. As always, there is art on the walls from a current exhibition, and a band doing sound check for a show later that night, and, before we can even place our drink order, a girl asks, "Excuse me, but are you an artist?" She shows us one of her drawings and asks if we think it's finished, yet. We give her our extremely inexperienced opinion, and that is that. Indeed, the idea that The Windup Space is an art gallery—in more ways than one—becomes more obvious as the night goes on. We notice a small community establishing itself at the bar. Many look like MICA-alums and are chatting about their latest "projects," whether they be musical, sculptural, or otherwise. The witty bartender (in a band, naturally) is knowledgeable about the art on the walls, especially a painting we find particularly fascinating, done by Andrew Liang, a recent exhibitionist at Windup. Soon enough, half-a-dozen of us are engrossed in the piece—talking about how Gouache paint is difficult to work with and how we all wouldn't mind hanging Liange's piece in our houses. We understand that sometimes these spaces can be a little intimidating, but tonight people are warm and amiable. (The girl next to us even offered up her leftover risotto from Joe Squared.) Hey, sometimes it pays to look a little deeper. 12 W. North Avenue, 410-244-8855, thewindupspace.com
Bring your night home!
Buy a piece of art
This month, The Windup Space is hosting an exhibition called "The Art of Science, The Science of Art." The space does art sales, prefers cash, and is known to sell pieces pretty quickly.
- Metro Gallery
When it opened, Metro Gallery was the pioneer of the Station North gallery/venue space. Now it's one of many, but its dance parties, impressive bookings, and well-curated gallery help it stand apart. 1700 N. Charles Street, 410-244-0899, themetrogallery.net.
- MICA Galleries
There is always an exhibition going on at MICA, by students, faculty, alumni, or acclaimed artists (like Goya). 1300 W. Mount Royal Avenue, 410-669-9200, mica.edu.
- current space
This artist-run gallery and studio moved from Federal Hill to Mt. Vernon earlier this year and is still going strong with monthly art exhibitions, like their current show, Flatlands, featuring drawings and prints. 421 N. Howard Street, currentspace.com
- Creative Alliance
The Creative Alliance is always up to something awesome, whether it's parties, craft shows, or an exhibit by an artist inspired by Bill Murray films. 3134 Eastern Avenue, 410-276-1651, creativealliance.org.
These diverse destinations allow us to travel the world without leaving the city.
Spotlight on Rainbow Music Studios
The thought of baring one’s musical soul to a room full of strangers surely fills the hearts of most with icy dread. Of course, that’s where the alcohol comes in, providing liquid courage to the hesitant, making bars a natural setting for karaoke. But karaoke comes in more than one flavor, and Asians, in particular, are privy to a more intimate kind of experience, what is known in Korean as a noreh bahng, or “song room,” where a group of friends sequester themselves for a night of singing unfettered by the usual ignominy, paid for by the hour. Rainbow Music Studios is such an establishment, and offers rooms with comfy couches for smaller groups of up to six, but can accommodate larger groups. While it's not the swankiest place in town, it is the only noreh bahng in the area, and it is a singular experience. Each room is equipped with its own karaoke system that somehow calculates a score after each performance, which can lead to some mighty competitive action. Songs are mainly Korean, but there is a sufficient selection of English pop and classics. It’s open until 4 a.m. since, no doubt, many customers make this a post-drinking stop. Food is available all night from Nam Kang, the Korean restaurant around the corner and it’s BYOB. Although all are welcome, it is helpful to have a Korean-speaking friend along to translate and possibly even finagle a discount. 2126 Maryland Avenue #2, 410-783-0229.
- The Latin Palace
The epicenter of Latin dance in East Baltimore is still rolling along with nightly salsa and samba lessons and dancing debauchery late into the night. 509 S. Broadway, 410-522-6700, latinpalace.com.
- Zeeba Lounge
There are cozy booths encircling a small space, which features belly dancers. There's hookah service, it's BYOB, and it stays open until 4 a.m. on weekends. 916 Light Street, 410-539-7900, zeebalounge.com.
- J. Patrick’s
Tucked deep in South Baltimore, this pub is cheerful, quaint, and has perfect Guinness pints. And there is live Irish music nightly. 1371 Andre Street, 410-244-8613.
- Blob’s Park
Two-stepping is on tap along with German beers and Bavarian fare. On weekend nights, multiple generations do the polka——lederhosen not required. 8024 Max Blobs Park Road, 410-799-7130, blobspark.net.
Where twentysomethings still act like they’re in college by dancing and drinking the night away.
Spotlight on Mother’s Federal Hill Grille
Mother’s has all the familiar trappings of a post-college bar. There is a Miller Lite stained-glass lamp hanging above the pool table. The guys, chomping down on hot wings and sipping domestic beer, far outnumber the girls. The options on the TVs include a slow-motion hockey fight and a high school football game. The bar sells T-shirts that say, “I love hot moms.” A Big Buck Hunter arcade game lurks in the corner. Tonight, we’re hanging out in the smaller, more homey bar. The bartenders are very sociable, getting to know us and giving out honest drink recommendations. The bar’s surface is plastered in bumper stickers, with many referencing New Orleans music, for which owner Dave Rather has always had a passion. In the far bigger space next to us, there is trivia going on. The latest answer is F. Scott Fitzgerald. But, where we are, the conversation is a little less refined. Two guys discuss what’s more important, a girl being “smart” or “hot.” Not surprisingly, the younger one in a camouflage hat decides on the latter. Then their conversation quickly, and seamlessly, turns to hunting. As the hours wear on, the vibe gets livelier. Groups of girls, dressed in skinny jeans and knee-high boots, start to arrive. They order fruit-infused vodka drinks, the bar turns into more of a dance floor, and it appears that, for the first time tonight, the guys aren’t directing all their attention to ESPN. 1113 S. Charles Street, 410-244-8686, mothersgrille.com.
- Claddagh Pub
This Irish bar gets jam-packed on the weekends, when a DJ spins top 40 hits and the two-floor space is wall-to-wall with shot-takers and booty-shakers. 2918 O’Donnell Street, 410-522-4220, claddaghonline.com.
- The Stalking Horse
This bar may seem tame, but the upstairs has flashing lights and a mob of dancers. Get a Red Bull slushie——you'll need the energy. 26 E. Cross Street, 410-244-6722, stalkinghorsefederalhill.com.
- Luckie’s Tavern
This Vegas-themed bar has paintings of the Rat Pack on its walls, and it turns into a wild dance party on the weekends. 10 Market Place, 410-223-1105, luckiestavern.com.
- Hightopps Backstage Grille
There are pool tables, flat screens, a year-round outdoor deck, weekly trivia, and 50-cent wings. What twentysomething wouldn’t like this place? 2306 York Road, Lutherville, 410-560-7101, hightoppsbackstagegrille.com.
Go for the drinks, stay for the food.
Spotlight on Jack’s Bistro
Jack’s is known for offering creative, sometimes experimental cuisine, employing novel cooking techniques, and pairing seemingly incongruous ingredients. A combination of playfulness in concept and skillful execution has earned Jack’s a spot as a local favorite. And while the menu changes at 10 p.m., the brightly lit restaurant and lounge area in front remains open until 2 a.m., and even offers limited (but just as compelling) options. What other bar menu has poutine (fries, cheese curds, and gravy) with foie-gras sauce? Seating is restricted to a few booths lining the wall opposite the handsome, well-stocked bar, and, of course, the bar itself. Either way, the staff here is personable, which, combined with the always-strong showing of regulars, creates a very social atmosphere. The selection of spirits is interesting, featuring several small-batch domestic brews. House cocktails mirror the kitchen’s whimsical approach. There is the Spa Martini, with citrus vodka and muddled cucumbers, a margarita made with jalapeno-infused tequila, an alcoholic bubble tea complete with tapioca pearls and large-diameter straw, and the delicious Jack’s Shandy, a combination of Brewer’s Art beer, strawberry puree, and ginger ale. 3123 Elliot Street, 410-878-6542, jacksbistro.net.
- Annabel Lee Tavern
Narrow and dimly lit, the mood here is intimate but not macabre, despite the Poe décor. It offers original house drinks and even better food. 601 S. Clinton Street, 410-522-2929, annabelleetavern.com.
- The Brewer’s Art
Really, it’s two entities in one. Upstairs is upscale, with a classically appointed bar. Downstairs is a cellar-like tavern with a casual crowd. 1106 N. Charles Street, 410-547-6925, thebrewersart.com.
- Riptide by the Bay
Riptide sets itself apart by offering excellent food, cheap drinks, and, most significantly, steamed crabs. 1718 Thames Street, 410-732-3474, riptidebythebay.net.
- Blue Hill Tavern
Blue Hill has an opulent interior and a creative menu with top-notch ingredients. The sleek bar area is complete with waterfall effects. 938 S. Conkling Street, 443-388-9363, bluehilltavern.com.
These events focus on literature, storytelling, and anything related to the written word.
Spotlight on 510 Reading Series
Climbing the stairs to the second floor of Minás Gallery and Boutique in Hampden, you’re hesitant. You’re here on a Saturday night for the monthly 510 Reading Series and you dread finding a cluster of pseudo-intellectuals at the top of the stairs. But then you emerge into a small room occupied by about 30 people wearing chunky knits, and you relax. “Oh right,” you say, mentally slapping yourself on the forehead, “Baltimore doesn’t do pretentious.” Host Michael Kimball, an author himself, sets the tone by welcoming everyone. He’s cobbled together introductory comments about the four authors (Matt Bell, Joanna Howard, Carolyn Parkhurst, and Brian Evenson). The readings are uniformly excellent as they span genres from horror to historical fiction. The whole thing is over in a little over an hour, including a 10-minute intermission when authors chat with and sign books for the attendees. Kimball announces that the festivities will continue down the street at Frazier’s with beer, food, and more conversation. At least one-third of the audience—and all of the authors—take him up on the invite. At the bar, we ask him why he started the series. He notes that there used to be nothing like it in Baltimore, and now there are lots of reading series. “I just thought there should be something like this,” he shrugs. And if you look behind him at the long table full of hungry readers tucking into their food and drink, it’s hard to argue. 815 W. 36th Street, 410-732-4258, minasgalleryandboutique.com.
- Stoop Storytelling
At the Stoop, a variety show held at Centerstage, every performer gets seven minutes to tell a personal tale. 700 N. Calvert Street, 410-986-4000, stoopstorytelling.com.
- New Mercury Readings
It's a monthly presentation of nonfiction inspired by the adventurousness of H.L. Mencken. 1401 Light Street, 443-955-1547, thenewmercuryreadings.com.
- Modern Masters Reading Series
Loyola University’s series brings national and international authors to the campus. 4501 N. Charles Street, 410-617-2000, loyola.edu.
- i.e. reading series
The i.e. reading series is held most Saturdays at Dionysus and regularly welcomes writers from around the world. 8 E. Preston Street, 410-244-1020, ieseries.wordpress.com.